A disallowed try and a late red card haven't stopped the Highlanders from stunning the Chiefs 30-27 in their Super Rugby opener in Hamilton.

Reserve back Sio Tomkinson, fresh on the field, was sent back off it with 15 minutes to go in the match and his side trailing on the scoreboard for a collision off the ball with Chiefs forward Brodie Retallick.

There didn't look to be a lot in the incident, but after the referees came together and sent the play upstairs for a review, the decision was made that it was a red card offence.

"It seemed a little bit cloudy, the conversation at the start," Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said of the referees discussing the offence.


"We'll have to go back a look through the laws and make sure our interpretation of what's going on there is bang on and have a look at the video. We've got a pretty disappointed Sio Tomkinson in the changing shed because he felt like he'd let the team down. It was a big moment for a young guy like that so we'll make sure we put the support around him and make sure we're really clear and what you can and can't do in those moments."

It was one of two refereeing decisions that will have people talking around the water cooler on Monday.

It took less than three minutes for the first controversial refereeing decision of the season, with Highlanders hooker Liam Coltman appearing to have scored the first try of the night early. Referee Glen Jackson sent it upstairs as a try, only to have TMO Aaron Patterson rule the effort to have been held up.

It was a strange start to the season, with the Chiefs feeling the effects before the season had even started.

Last year, they had to deal with all six of their contracted props being unavailable early in the season. This year, they went into the opening round without their original four first five-eighths available.

Yet running Orbyn Leger - a midfielder on debut for the Chiefs - in the No.10 jersey worked a treat for the hosts.

Leger starred for the Chiefs with the keys to the offence in his hands, showing a deft kicking game and playing some smart football. While there were questions raised over the selection coming into the match with Damian McKenzie, Marty McKenzie, Jack Debreczeni and Tiaan Falcon all out, Leger quickly silenced all concerns in what was a true spectacle of 'round one football'.

From shocking attempts at goal, terrible passes going astray and gaps opening up all over the field, there was no shortage of entertainment from start to finish for the 12,238 in attendance.

Tevita Li of the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport
Tevita Li of the Highlanders. Photo / Photosport

After Coltman's early effort was disallowed, the Chiefs kept welcoming the visitors back into their territory and were eventually made to pay when lock Pari Pari Parkinson barged over from close range in the 14th minute. To that point, the Highlanders had 75 per cent of the football and almost all of the territory in their favour, but the try seemed to kick some life into the hosts.

Loose forward Tyler Ardron crossed for the Chiefs first points just moments later, making an easy run from the back of a scrum five metres from the Highlanders line. It was just reward for the No.8, who charged down an attempted clearance to force Matt Faddes to fumble the ball past his own dead ball line.

The Chiefs were in almost immediately afterwards when winger Bailyn Sullivan regathered a chip and chase to see prop Angus Ta'avao scoot over from the next phase. Etene Nanai-Seturo also got among the points in the first half, finishing from a beautiful offload from Nathan Harris.

Ahead by nine at halftime, the Chiefs went on with the job. Leger connected with Nanai-Seturo on a pinpoint cross field kick for the first points of the half, giving the Chiefs a comfortable lead.

The Highlanders, on the other hand, looked happy to eat into the deficit from the kicking tee, until a bust from Tyrel Lomax up the middle sent Shannon Frizell over the line, with Josh Ioane's conversion bringing the visitors within four points.

When Tomkinson was sent from the pitch, you might have thought that was it for the Highlanders. However, Aaron Smith scurried over to score inside the final five minutes to steal the win for the visitors.

Highlanders 30 (Pari Pari Parkinson, Shannon Frizell, Aaron Smith tries; Josh Ioane 3 cons, 3 pens)
Chiefs 27 (Etene Nanai-Seturo 2, Tyler Ardron, Angus Ta'avao tries; Brad Weber 2 cons, Stephen Donald pen)